Pro Bono Work
Challenging pro bono work has long been a cornerstone of our practice. It is a fundamental part of who we are and is critically important to those whom we help. At Cravath, associates are encouraged to devote time to pro bono matters from the moment they walk in the door. The Firm’s Pro Bono Partner, Antony Ryan, recently emphasized, “We each should and will have our own pro bono story because there are so many different ways to contribute to the community.”
Cravath’s deep commitment to pro bono work spans centuries. In 1803, Judge Elijah Miller, who would later become one of the Firm’s founders, provided free legal representation to the first Native American tried for the murder of a white man in New York State. Since then, members of the Firm have argued historic cases that include the appeal that led to Miranda v. Arizona, the landmark decision requiring that criminal suspects be informed of their right to counsel, and Martin v. Wilks, which served as a catalyst for the Civil Rights Act of 1991. We’re proud of this rich tradition, and some of our most groundbreaking pro bono work has been performed by associates.
In 2008, Cravath won a landmark settlement on behalf of homeless families with children. In this settlement, New York City finally acknowledged, after 25 years of litigation, that homeless families have a state constitutional right to shelter, and has agreed to an enforceable judgment that sets the legal parameters for emergency shelter for homeless people. In 2014, the United States Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of our client to affirm the denial of a petition pursuant to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. In 2015, Cravath filed an amicus brief and argued before the Third Circuit En Banc in support of a defendant who had been indicted, tried, jury-instructed and convicted for one crime, but over objection, was erroneously sentenced for a different, aggravated crime. The En Banc Court vacated the defendant’s sentence, and the dissent credited Cravath for the reversal.
More recently, Cravath, with co-counsel from A Better Childhood, Inc., has represented a group of children in foster care in New York in a lawsuit alleging systemic deficiencies in the foster care system, and on March 20, 2018, Cravath filed a proposed class action for declaratory and injunctive relief on behalf of Juvenile Lifers. This lawsuit seeks to reform the parole hearing process in New York State for all persons eligible for release to parole supervision who were convicted of crimes committed when they were children under the age of 18 and sentenced to indeterminate life sentences with the possibility of parole. Since the action was filed, all eight of the named plaintiffs have been released to parole supervision. On May 30, 2019, Cravath, Lambda Legal, ACLU and South Carolina Equality Coalition sued the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and South Carolina for discriminating against same‑sex and other foster parents on the basis of religion. Our clients, a married lesbian couple, applied to foster with Miracle Hill and were denied because they failed to meet the agency’s religious criteria, which excluded prospective foster parents who are not evangelical Protestant Christian or who are same‑sex couples of any faith. On July 23, 2019, Cravath and Disability Rights Advocates (“DRA”) obtained final approval of a historic class action settlement that establishes a comprehensive remedial plan for drastically improving sidewalk accessibility for all members of New York City’s disability community. In another victory for accessibility, earlier this year, in a suit brought by Cravath and DRA, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled that the New York Police Department violated federal law under the ADA by failing to make police stations accessible to individuals with mobility disabilities. The victory will result in expanded access and accommodations at police stations throughout the city.
Associates at Cravath engage in pro bono work in a number of ways. Some work on pro bono projects that their assigned partners are handling—high-impact matters have involved civil liberties, relief for homeless families, representation for the indigent, women’s rights, environmental advocacy and the death penalty, to name a few. An associate may also take on a pro bono client of his or her own under the supervision of a partner—for example, a victim of domestic violence or a political refugee seeking asylum. Finally, many associates contribute to our numerous formal pro bono initiatives, such as our Children’s Hospital Program, which provides free legal services to hospitalized children and their families. In addition to representing individual pro bono clients, associates also provide a wide range of free legal services to non-profit and charitable organizations.
Our legal services partners include the ACLU, American Immigrant Representation Project, Brennan Center for Justice, CAIR NY, Center for Global Enterprise, City Bar Justice Center, Disability Rights Advocates, Her Justice, Human Rights First, Immigration Equality, Lambda Legal, Lawyers Alliance, Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, The Legal Aid Society of New York, Legal Services NYC, Office of the Appellate Defender, New York City Anti-Violence Project, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, New York Legal Assistance Group, Sanctuary for Families, Trustlaw, Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts and Volunteers of Legal Service, many of which have recognized the Firm with awards for our pro bono work.
We are often asked by candidates whether pro bono work “counts” in the same way as paying work. At Cravath, we do not distinguish between pro bono clients and paying clients; each is a client of the Firm and each receives the same Cravath-quality representation.
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
The development of our lawyers is our most important long-term objective and we view diversity and inclusion as an integral component to talent development. In order to reach their full potential, we recognize that our lawyers must feel comfortable bringing their authentic selves to work, so we devote substantial time, energy and resources to helping them connect with their colleagues and with Firm leadership. As such, our diversity and inclusion initiatives reinforce the importance of relationship-building and mentoring.
Through our internal affinity groups—including African American/Black, Asian/Pacific Islander, Hispanic/Latinx, LGBTQ+, parent, South Asian/Middle Eastern and women’s networks—our associates have the opportunity to seek advice and informal mentoring, as well as forge and strengthen both professional relationships and friendships. For example, our affinity groups host lunches where attorneys meet and discuss issues of importance to the group, and our Women’s Initiative hosts programming that includes monthly women’s lunches and events for women at varying levels of seniority. Members have had a hand in enhancing programming as well, with their requests and input leading to several “fireside chats”, where prominent individuals who are general counsel or leaders of civil rights organizations have visited the Firm to speak about their experiences.
In addition to our affinity groups, we identify opportunities for all attorneys to participate in programming that affirms the importance of diversity and inclusion. For example, in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, one of our partners facilitated a conversation with Emmy‑award winning documentarian Rudy Valdez. During the conversation, Rudy discussed his film The Sentence and mandatory minimums, their consequences and the critical need for sentencing reform. Additionally, for prior Black History Month programs, we have hosted a screening of and discussion around Just Mercy, as well as hosted notable speakers, including Dr. Kevin Rome, President of Fisk University, one of the nation’s historically black colleges, and Professor Anthony Thompson, Founding Faculty Director of NYU’s Center on Race, Inequality and the Law. A much anticipated event took place in 2019 during Pride month to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots and the launch of the LGBTQ+ civil rights movement. The event featured one of our partners and several alumni who discussed laws and policies that have helped further LGBTQ+ equality.
In addition to promoting a culture of inclusivity through our programming and affinity groups, we are committed to having women and people of color represented and supported at all levels of the Firm. In January 2017, Faiza Saeed became the Firm’s Presiding Partner, making us one of only a small handful of large law firms led by a woman. We are also pleased that 11 out of 20 of our most recently elected partners have been women, including 3 women of color. Our 2020 summer associate class was composed of 59% women, 40% students of color and 9% LGBTQ+ students.